How to Customize Your Cover Letter

The cover letter you send to a company when applying for a job can make or break your application. While your resume is a list of your qualifications, experience and references, your cover letter is a communication directly from to the person responsible for hiring. For this reason, it is crucial that you do not fall into the trap of using the same generic cover letter for any and every job application.

Sending in a generic letter not only creates a first impression of laziness, but is a wasted opportunity. A cover letter may be thought of as advertising yourself to the company – and should therefore be targeted at the audience. Customizing your cover letter to focus on the company’s needs and how you can meet them can greatly increase your chances of being hired. Here are six questions you should ask yourself while writing your cover letter.

  1. Who will be reading the letter?

“Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern” at the beginning of a cover letter may seem professional and formal, but these phrases give the impression that you do not know how to use an internet search engine. They belong to a time when you would not have been able to look up what you needed. These days, you will be expected to do this research. Most companies have the names of their directors available online. You should be able to find the name of the hiring manager. Be sure to check if the job posting includes the name of the person to whom applications should be sent. Some companies may have privacy or no-name policies that prevent you from finding the name you need, but you will only know this if you try.

  1. What is the job for which you are applying?

Any job, no matter the level or industry, will have its own requirements. If you are unsure what the job title on a posting entails, do some research. Often, a posting will include a list of preferred skills and required experience. Once you know what the hiring manager will be looking for, you can tailor, or match, your abilities to those required. This may mean you choose to mention some skills over others. You may also focus on certain parts of past experiences. For example, your job in a restaurant kitchen might not be relevant to your application to work in retail, but you could focus on the fact that you used to place orders and do weekly stock-takes. Writing about all your experiences as though they were all equally relevant can send the message that you do not know that much about the job for which you are applying.

  1. Why should you get this job?

This is the kind of question that you might be tempted to answer with buzzwords. However, telling a potential employer that you are a “go-getter” or are “good at taking initiative” means very little. The statements may very well be true, but hundreds of other applicants might say the exact same things. Focus instead on why you, personally, should get this specific job. If there is anything you think you could bring to the job that sets you apart from anyone else, make sure to mention it. This is also another good opportunity to illustrate how well you know what the job would require.

  1. What are the company’s current goals?

If possible, try to research ways in which the company might be seeking to move forward or expand. They may recently have set up more of an online presence, or started using new technology. They may have a website update or press release covering a new direction in which they hope to take the company. Mentioning these objectives and how you believe you can help to achieve them can set your application apart.

  1. What is the company culture like?

It is usually advisable to write a cover letter in a formal way. This demonstrates respect, and shows that you will be able to handle business-style communications. However, some companies might be looking for something a little different. If the company is very new, very creative or bases its brand on a strong personality type, you might be able to reflect your understanding of this in the tone of your letter. It may be appropriate, even beneficial, to incorporate some humor or casual phrases into the letter. Not that you would want to go overboard, of course. You can pick up hints from the company’s online presence and mission statement to guide you.

  1. Why do you want the job?

Focusing only on reasons that you would be great for the company creates a feeling of one-sidedness. Your qualifications and experience could be exactly what the job post has listed, but a hiring manager might be looking for more than that. Remember, they are hiring someone they could be working with day after day. They will want someone who really wants to be there. Explain what you would be most excited for if you got the job, both in terms of the work and the company itself. You can mention things about the company, such as its history, its employee loyalty or its standing on ethical matters. If you demonstrate a passionate interest in both the company and the job for which you are applying, you can make those reading the applications excited to work with you.

By doing your research and customizing your cover letter for each job you apply for, you show yourself in the best possible light. That extra time you spend carefully selecting what to write and how to write it can make all the difference.